For Samantha Biffle, the educational intern for the Moody Planetarium, most of her time there has been spent watching renovations come to life.
In February 2015 the planetarium received a grant from The Moody Foundation, Biffle said. According to its website, the Galveston-based charitable foundation has been giving grants to many parts of Texas since 1942.
The website also shows the four regions for which it disperses grants, and Lubbock, which is in the west region, received more than $112,000 for the planetarium.
“There’s a connection there. They were sort of the original funders of the planetarium,” Biffle said, “and I believe they’ve given money throughout the life of the planetarium, but this is coming full circle.”
What the grant did was give those working in the planetarium a way to repair the laser system, she said, which is one of the selling points for the planetarium. Before the renovations, the system was nonfunctional for nearly three years.
The recent grant has updated a newer laser system that is able to give off exuberant colors and light, Biffle said, which was the most expensive part of the grant.
The planetarium also had an outdated console that worked with its star ball, she said.
“We took all that out because we don’t need it anymore,” she said, “and it got cleaned (and) sort of refurbished.”
Recently most planetariums have completely done away with their star ball and console systems and switched to a digital stargazing method, Biffle said. However, the planetarium’s faculty and staff decided to keep the star ball, along with the digital system, and work with both.
In keeping the star ball, the staff is hoping, she said, to draw in more people for more technical and specialized stargazing.
“Basically it’s literally a ball that projects onto the dome,” she said. “So it’s a very crisp projection, and in a lot of ways it’s better than digital projection.”
Caroline Reeves, the newest planetarium intern from Carrollton, said she started working with the planetarium once everything was coming into place. Since the end of January when the planetarium re-opened, she said the staff has been able to put on entertaining light shows.
For some of the planetarium’s musically themed shows, there is more of an entertainment variable than anything else, she said. At the moment, there is a show titled ‘Laser Mania’ that is showing through March 15, according to the planetarium’s website.
The show has music from artists like Foo Fighters, Blink-182 and some portions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Reeves said.
“Those are purely entertainment and those are longer,” she said. “Those generally tend to be about 45 minutes. There’s just music, they project on the wall — people really like them.”
Shows like that run Wednesdays through Sunday during the regular work week, Reeves said, and time slots are available on the planetarium’s website.
However, through the original grant the planetarium was able to pay for six new shows that were more educational, she said.
“Those are mostly about space. Space exploration, space history,” Reeves said. “We have a couple about dinosaurs and what could’ve potentially happened to the dinosaurs.”
None of those shows last more than 40 minutes, she said.
The problem the staff has had before was that it did not have many shows, and the planetarium was often playing the same one numerous times, she said. Now the staff members are trying to figure out how to incorporate these shows in a way that varies from week to week.
After going through the schedule, both Biffle and Reeves said they realized that most of the laser shows were not going to be seen, so they reworked it to incorporate those more. Now they switch shows every two weeks instead of every month, she said.
“People are really excited about the laser, and I think that they are really excited about having new shows,” Biffle said. “I feel like that’s probably the biggest selling point for the renovation.”
However, because the planetarium is far off from the rest of the campus, the attendance in students coming is relatively low, partially because students might not know the planetarium is there, Reeves said.
Faculty administration has been able to pick up what people want over time, Biffle said, and the planetarium has picked shows that might incite students’ interest.
They have also been trying to ramp up their social media in every aspect, Biffle said.
The Moody Planetarium is supposed to be an immersive experience that incorporates sight and sound, similar to a movie theater, she said, and the staff wants people to join them in that experience, even though it is smaller than the average movie or Imax theater.
Many people think that all the planetarium shows are things similar to screensaver effects, but it is more than that, Biffle said, and they incorporate stories and other digital picture effects.
“We offer something that is pretty unique. Also, we’ve been around since 1970,” she said. “It’s a really good educational opportunity for teachers, but also it’s a good place to take a date. It’s cheaper than a movie and it’s really cool.”